Tag Archives: Tropical Ecology

Winter Break as a Grad Student

Written by Rachael Bonoan, Biology Ph.D. Candidate

As a graduate student, winter break is a “break” in that you don’t have to TA and you have more time to write, analyze data, and do research—not the break you become accustomed to as an undergrad. I suppose it’s a bit of a transition to adulthood. But, by the time this post is published, I will be roughly 4,000 miles south of Tufts. This winter break, I am going to Costa Rica! As part of a class I am taking here at Tufts! We will be doing research so it still isn’t a “break,” but I am looking forward to it all the same.

Every other year, Biology professor Dr. Colin Orians teaches a class called “Tropical Ecology and Conservation.” We spend the semester learning about the rainforest (via readings, presentations, and interactive discussions) and designing an experiment. THEN, we spend two weeks—in Costa Rica!—actually doing that experiment! The class is open to both graduate and undergraduate students so it is a good way to meet undergrads that are especially driven and interested in research (you have to apply to get into the class).

It is also a great way to do science in a new location! Since I work with honey bees, I don’t have to travel far to do my field work (one field site is about a 10-minute walk from my lab, the other is about a 40-minute drive). This coming winter break, I am excited to experience a new field site, a new culture, and a new country (I have never left the U.S.)!

My partner and I have designed an experiment to look at salt foraging behavior in stingless bees. While stingless bees get most of their nutrients from pollen and nectar, they also visit nonfloral sources (such as sweat, dung, and even carrion). We hypothesize that foraging for nonfloral resources is a way for stingless bees to get salts that their floral diet is lacking (plants tend to be low in sodium). Like Gatorade for bees!

In addition to research, we will go snorkeling, visit an avocado plantation, tour a coffee farm, and of course, hike in the jungle!

This blog post doesn’t have photos but I am hoping that my next blog post will have some awesome pictures from Costa Rica.

Until then, happy holidays!